Going Vegetarian

What is a vegetarian diet?

A vegetarian diet consists of grains, pulses, nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruits and may include dairy products and eggs. A vegetarian does not eat any meat, poultry, game, fish, shellfish or by-products of slaughter.

Are all vegetarian diets the same?

No. There are three main kinds of vegetarian diets. A lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet includes both dairy products and eggs. A lacto-vegetarian diet includes dairy products but leaves out eggs and a vegan diet does not include any dairy products, eggs, or any other products which are derived from animals including honey.

Is a vegetarian diet healthy?

Vegetarian diets usually contain less saturated fatty acids and more, dietary fibre than omnivorous diets. Research has shown that vegetarians are less likely to suffer from obesity, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, type II diabetes, some diet-related cancers, diverticular disease, appendicitis, constipation and gallstones.

Are there any nutrients missing from a vegetarian diet?

A varied lacto-ovo and lacto vegetarian diet will provide all the nutrients required. However a vegan diet may not contain enough vitamin B12. The only reliable vegan sources of vitamin B12 are foods fortified with B12 (including some plant milks, some soy products and some breakfast cereals) and B12 supplements. It is important to have a regular intake of vitamin B12.

Who is vegetarian?

According to a recent Mintel Report 20% of 16 to 24 year olds claim to be vegetarian. These figures drop to 3% of adults according to the latest National Diet and Nutrition Survey. Six per cent of adults claim to eat mainly vegetarian and include some fish in their diet.

How to go vegetarian

Being vegetarian means getting the nutrients that are associated with a conventional diet of meat, poultry, fish and seafood from other sources. To do this you need to eat a wide variety of food from the following groups:

  1. Fruit and vegetables
  2. Rice, bread, pasta, polenta and grains such as quinoa, bulgar wheat and millet
  3. Nuts, seeds and pulses (beans and peas)
  4. Dairy produce including cheese, milk and eggs, plant milk, soya cheese and Quorn
  5. Oils and condiments, including olive and rapeseed oil, yeast extract, nut butters (peanut and almond)

Remember each food listed above contains a rich mix of nutrients. Eating a wide variety of these foods will ensure you get all the nutrients you need.

Where does the protein in vegetarian diets come from?

A balanced diet should include a daily intake of around 0.75 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight.  An average adult woman needs about 45 grams of protein per day and a man needs 55 grams.

This not hard to achieve. There are many protein rich foods for vegetarians, rivalling the protein content of meat products. The best sources are pulses, nuts, seeds, soya, dairy food and cereals such as bread and pasta.

Protein combining

Proteins are made up of amino acids and two  are given special attention in vegetarian diets – lysine and methionine. Cereals, such as wheat and rice are relatively low in lysine but high in methionine whereas beans and peas are high in lysine and better sources of methionine. So it is important to combine protein sources by eating a combination of pulses with cereals. A good example of this is eating houmous and pita bread or rice and peas.

Learn to cook

Learning to cook simple vegetarian meals is one of the best things you can do if you want to change to a vegetarian diet. You will need to equip yourself with a good set of knives and learn how to use them proficiently so you can peel and chop vegetables quickly. A food processor, stick blender and pressure cooker for cooking pulses are all really useful pieces of equipment for cooking vegetarian meals.

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